Getting excited for Oath of the Gatewatch? Ready for Standard to be shaken up again? Personally my answer is YES! Oath of the Gatewatch promises to bring a new twist to Magic unlike anything that we have seen before. While there are only a handful of spoilers that are official, it seems like the biggest change with Oath of the Gatewatch is the importance of colorless mana. Now that the format revolves around fetch lands and battle lands, it is time to switch things up once more. The three plus-color decks are clearly more powerful than the one- and two-color decks right now in Standard. While we do see some two-color strategies doing well like Atarka Red, for the most part Standard is flush with decks of three or more colors. It seems clear that Wizards wants to push what it can do with manabases to the limit with Oath of the Gatewatch by counteracting this trend and making colorless cards more powerful and synergistic.
Taking a look at the essence of a colorless land, we have Wastes. After looking at Wastes the reaction from many has been that there is actually a "sixth color" being added to the game. Wizards is adding cards that need colorless mana in order to be cast. Does this mean that colorless mana or, in other words, Wastes mana becomes its own color? Why would someone actually play a land that just made a single colorless mana, and has no additional effects? The answers are starting to unravel and will become clearer as we move towards the release of Oath of the Gatewatch. This idea of a sixth color is intriguing, though in my opinion there are still technically only five colors; colorless mana has changed though, that is clear.
There is an incentive to have lands that produce no colors rather than more colors. While Wastes itself may not seem like a particularly impressive land, it is also actually a basic land. There has never been a basic land which is colorless before, so does this essentially make Wastes on an equal playing field as other basic lands? What is really cool is that now you can actually search your deck for a Wastes simply because it is a basic land. Wastes being a basic land Contradicts many of the ideas which players have had for years about colorless mana, and the traditional five colors, but colorless mana isn't really another color, right? It may be that the time is right to try and throw away all of our current ideas about how colorless mana works in order to fully comprehend what colorless mana will be in Oath of the Gatewatch.
The first card that is known to require Wastes mana is Kozilek, the Great Distortion, and I Anticipate many more of its kind will be officially spoiled soon enough. Kozilek, the Great Distortion is reminiscent of Kozilek, Butcher of Truth. While Kozilek, Butcher of Truth never really saw a ton of Standard play it has taken off in more casual formats, and ten-mana, huge creatures are simply fun to play with. I remember casting Kozilek, Butcher of Truth and thinking that the four cards I drew should be enough to seal a game. Kozilek, the Great Distortion has the ability to draw even more cards than Kozilek, Butcher of Truth did, as oftentimes a big spell like this will be one of the last cards left in your hand.
Completely refilling your grip and gaining a huge body capable of winning the game by itself is great, not to mention menace and the final ability on Kozilek, the Great Distortion. The Counterspell effect seems like it could effectively lock an opponent out of the game, especially in a deck full of colorless cards. After drawing a bunch of cards you may have the correct mana-costed colorless card to, say, counter an opposing removal spell, which would otherwise deal with Kozilek, the Great Distortion.
It will be interesting to see just how much play Wastes sees in Standard as being able to search for a Wastes with a Rampant Growth effect is a pretty big deal. Imagine even sacrificing an Evolving Wilds simply to go find a copy of Wastes. That is a mind blowing play. A play such as playing Explosive Vegetation to find two Wastes, which then helps cast Kozilek, the Great Distortion is going to be valid in Standard. There may be decks that simply want to play one or two copies of Wastes to search up, and enable a card like Kozilek, the Great Distortion to be cast. On the flip side you could play more copies of Wastes in your deck if there was a need for a ton of colorless mana. It is unclear exactly how much play Wastes will see in Standard, as there may be superior colorless lands in Oath of the Gatewatch for Constructed play, but at its core the very idea of playing Wastes is fascinating.
The key to cards like Kozilek, the Great Distortion is that you don't need an actual copy of Wastes to cast it, but the card also can't be cast off of battle lands or traditional basic lands. This makes cards like Hedron Archive, a card that already has been seeing play in Standard, that much more relevant. Hedron Archive naturally sees play in the ramp deck, and it is actually the ramp deck that as of now stands to gain the most from the cards needing colorless mana. It is always nice to be playing a deck that is good enough to be competitive in Standard, and then see cards in the newest set that should definitely improve the deck, which seems to be the case for Ramp. This deck already has a manabase filled with lands that produce colorless mana, which means that there isn't a need to go out of the way if you want to add something like Kozilek, the Great Distortion. Think about how well Sanctum of Ugin and Shrine of the Forsaken Gods work with Kozilek, the Great Distortion.
Let's go ahead and take a look at what Red/Green Ramp looks like at the moment. This list was played by TheDeeKay on Magic Online:
Looking at the spells in the deck, of the actual threats there is only one threat that actually requires colored mana, which is a seven-drop in Dragonlord Atarka. There are twenty other green cards but all of those are mana accelerators. There is already a very powerful colorless threat in Standard in Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, and there are other Eldrazi that are perfectly playable as well. I have seen Oblivion Sower, for instance, in this deck and in Modern Tron as well. The point is that there are already very powerful colorless cards in Standard, which are good enough to be played in some of the top performing archetypes.
It is clear that Wizards was already laying the groundwork for Wastes mana in Battle for Zendikar. While Ramp is the only legitimate archetype playing Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger right now, I would expect that to change. What will be interesting is choosing between Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Kozilek, the Great Distortion, as both are extremely powerful individual threats. In a deck like this, that plays Sanctum of Ugin, I would expect to see a mix of the two. What will be interesting is if this deck ends up going even more towards the colorless end of the spectrum and foregoes a lot of the green cards. We already know about Hedron Archive and, if there are more forms of colorless ramp, it is possible to picture a completely colorless deck. At that point is there really a difference between say mono-green and mono-colorless? I wish I had all the answers but a certain amount of this is speculation, as it will take playing with Oath of the Gatewatch to answer some of the tough questions relating to Wastes.
It seems like the printing of Wastes, may be able to offset the importance of fetch lands and battle lands. It will be interesting to see just how many cards Wizards wants to print like Kozilek, the Great Distortion since, if the colorless cards are powerful enough, we could see manabases which include battle lands and Wastes in the same deck. This seems very counterintuitive, but we will see whether cards need, say, four colorless mana to be cast, or if it's generally going to be just one or two mana which needs to be colorless. This will have a direct impact on whether it will be possible to have colorless lands played alongside the various multicolored lands so, at this point, there is much that is still being left open to interpretation on just how far the theme of colorless mana will go.
While there are some cards which support multicolor decks, the theme of colorless cards is overwhelming already. I am personally looking forward to the Expeditions coming out of Oath of the Gatewatch. I wasn't sure whether or not Expeditions would be returning, but it seems they will be. Battle for Zendikar has been a hit, and many players have loved opening packs because of the potential of finding an Expedition. The Expeditions also include colorless lands, as we already know that Wizards has gone all the way to Legacy this time. Ancient Tomb promises to be one of the more popular of the Expeditions and is an example of one of the best colorless lands of all time.
I don't want to get too excited since I'm not sure exactly which expeditions are confirmed yet, but there definitely will be some sweet ones in Oath of the Gatewatch. The set should shake up Standard, and my hope is that Magic is in fact ready for Wastes mana. I have heard players say that this could ruin the game, or that this could be the greatest set in Magic's history! Change is a scary thing since players are so used to the game the way it is, without thinking about perhaps a functional sixth color in the game.
Most of the time Wizards does get it right and Magic needs to change constantly in order to remain as popular as it is and keep players continuously guessing. What is scarier is that this isn't just a new mechanic, this is looking at colorless mana in a completely new way, and there is always some chance there is a flaw in the concept that Wizards hasn't foreseen. Hopefully the power level of the new colorless cards doesn't overpower the Standard multicolor decks, but also makes it possible to run lands like Wastes. What is clear is that we have plenty to look forward to, and I plan to continue to look at Oath of the Gatewatch and think of new deck ideas.
Thanks for reading,